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Communications of the ACM


Beyond the 'Fix-It' Treadmill

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Credit: Andrij Borys Associates

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Of all the traits the technology industry is known for, self-reflectivity and historical introspection do not rank high on the list. As industry legend Alan Kay once famously quipped, "The lack of interest, the disdain for history is what makes computing not-quite-a-field." It is therefore somewhat cognitively dissonant, if not fully ironic, that the past few years have seen renewed interest in the mechanics of retrospectives and how they fit into the daily practice of our craft.

Of course, retrospectives are not new, in software development at least. For more than 15 years capital-A Agile software development methods have been extolling the virtues of a scheduled, baked-in reflection period at the end of each development sprint. (Whether these actually occur in organizations practicing Agile remains an open question.) Those same 15 years have also seen a tectonic shift in the way software is delivered: the general industry trend has sharply moved from packaging up those bits and bytes into boxes to be shipped to users to "operate" themselves toward deploying it on massive server installations that we are responsible for maintaining, operating the software we have developed for users.


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